Release Date: Oct 2, 2012
Record label: Acephale
Genre(s): R&B, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Alternative R&B
How To Dress WellTotal Loss[Acéphale / Weird World; 2012]By Weston Fleming; September 24, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGA little over a year ago, video emerged of Tom Krell doing a somber cover of R. Kelly’s “I Wish.” But this didn’t sound quite like anything we’d heard released under Krell’s How To Dress Well moniker before: his vocals raw and finally intelligible in the absence of any effects or a completely narcotized instrumental. And with all of the upbeat, spiritual skygazing from Kel’s original stripped away, there sat Krell’s cover: naked, sober, alone with a keyboard, and inconsolable.
Tom Krell has never been shy about naming his influences. On Love Remains, his How to Dress Well debut, they were pop and R&B acts like Ready For the World, Shai, Michael Jackson, and Bobby Brown. He's no less forthcoming about the inspirations behind his heartbreaking second LP, Total Loss. During the penultimate apologia "Set It Right", he provides a roll call: Ryan, Dan, Mama, Grandma, Francey, Robbie, Nicky, and the list goes on.
The vehicle of Berlin-based New Yorker Tom Krell, How to Dress Well's acclaimed debut, Love Remains, first unveiled his fractured R&B and doleful falsetto. As with Frank Ocean's recent Channel Orange, the follow-up nods to Stevie Wonder and especially Prince, whose heavenly Purple Rain harmonies are particularly referenced for the hymnal Talking to You. However, Krell's music is starker, as he brings a deeply personal sadness to tracks of ethereal beauty.
After his pioneering brand of chillwave-R&B took the hipstersphere by storm in 2010, Tom Krell’s luck ran out when, last year, a death in the family left the New Yorker clinically depressed. “The only bad part about flying”, ponders an angelic street kid on ‘Say My Name’, “is having to come back down to the fucking world”. With the realisation that for hope to blossom, a grief-fogged mind needs clarity, on ‘Total Loss’ Krell has emerged blinking from behind chillwave’s anaesthetic shroud.
On his debut album, 2010’s Love Remains, Tom Krell certainly wasn’t your ordinary R&B star: a scrawny, dorky, bespectacled white dude blending bedroom-goth ambience with a ‘90s-era strand of quiet-storm soul, channeling sadness and heartbreak through a shivering falsetto. Arresting stuff—even if those burning emotions were somewhat muted, struggling for air under the mountains of reverb and ghostly echo, teetering on the verge of a catharsis that never arrived. That moment of clarity comes two years later, toward the end of Total Loss’ mesmerizing closer, “Ocean Floor of Everything.
Total Loss‘s cover art, a picture of a death mask-like sculpture of experimental singer-songwriter Tom Krell’s face, is strikingly absent of any morbidity, perhaps due in part to his serene expression and the misty, pink backdrop. And despite its title, his sophomore album under pseudonym How to Dress Well is rather celebratory, an assurance of undying devotion and life-affirming affection that’s remarkably free of conflict. “You were there for me when I was in trouble,” Krell sings on the opening track, “When I Was in Trouble”; it’s a lyric that shows up numerous times over the course of the album as Krell recounts how love dragged him back from the brink.
Okay, firstly, the weather appears to be on the turn, but in London we’ve just had one of the brightest, hottest weekends of the summer. Now, it may not matter to a lot of people – especially in our increasingly windowless, social-netfraping, Warcraft-'I-can-live-in-another-reality-as-a-Dwarf-lord'-world – but the environment in which we listen to different types of music seems to me to be pretty crucial. There’s music that’ll sit right during a sunny day, or late at night in a packed club.
How To Dress Well’s second full-length release, Total Loss, is, from the first track onwards, a confessional that draws you along with a line of thread until the album ends and you’re left standing in an immense mass of string. Tom Krell knows how to rouse your expectations and make you really wait for it by introducing each track as a seemingly simple song that inevitably blooms into a heavily textured R & B heartbreaker. His use of tension is best captured on the track “& It Was U,” which begins with Krell singing a capella in his Aaliyah-esque falsetto until finger-snapping and foot-stomping are overtaken by layered effects and a mechanized clapping backbeat that could contend with Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack.
How to Dress Well helmsman Tom Krell built his following on contorting the familiar. On his debut LP Love Remains, Krell took the sounds of FM-bred R&B smooth jams and twisted them into his own surreal shapes, creating an effect akin to dozing off on a Greyhound bus to the faint lull of the driver’s radio station. You never knew you even liked smooth R&B until you heard it that way.
On his second How to Dress Well album Total Loss, Tom Krell abandons much of the murky mystery of his debut, Love Remains, undescoring the R&B roots of his music. It's a bold move, one that puts him in territory closer to the xx than where he was before, and one that sometimes highlights his shortcomings. "When I Was in Trouble" introduces Krell's new aesthetic, bathing his falsetto vocals -- now freed of the static and distortion that cloaked them on his debut -- in electronics that manage to be gloomy and glowing at the same time; on "Struggle," reverb surrounds his voice like a halo.
The brackish, rhythmic pulse thumps so severely that it sounds as though the speakers are set to implode. The chords underneath them trundle over hissing static and spectral density, utterly pulverizing Tom Krell’s voice as his clarion tones comb along the surface, a defenseless ursine cub treading water among a seething and polluted veneer. “Walking This Dumb” is the only live recording from Love Remains, and it embodies a core example of how this humble practitioner sought to encapsulate his lo-fi design, which radically collapses into frantic cheering and applaud from the audience, along with a passing comment about the hulking level of distortion.
Throughout his short career, How to Dress Well’s Tom Krell has already garnered the tag of being ethereal and ultimately transcendent. On Love Remains, the fragments of his life were adorned with stellar hooks (“You Won’t Need Me Where I’m Goin’”) and moving, tremendously great melodies (“Endless Rain”); each song, paired with his voice, made for a winning combination. The entire time, the music always felt otherworldly and torn, because of the open production and sparse gestures employed by Krell.
Right before the release of his debut album, 2010's Love Remains, Krell (who records as How To Dress Well) lost his best friend unexpectedly. Krell used his music to help cope with the tragedy, resulting in his second full-length album, Total Loss. With help from XL Recordings' in-house genius, Rodaidh McDonald, Krell has enriched the scratchy, lo-fi production and avoided the fragmentary structures that typified his earlier releases.
Last year How To Dress Well’s Tom Krell enjoyed the same success that similar, introverted bedroom producers received thanks to his debut ‘Love Remains’. Originally available in separate EPs, its appeal lay in its over reverberant and fragmented take on Eighties era R&B, and similar echoes run through its follow up ‘Total Loss’. Downbeat atmospheres provide platforms for Krell’s androgynous falsetto and, like his Tri Angle label mate Holy Other, his dazed take on R&B is still lonesome and ghostly.
Second album of lo-fi RnB from Brooklyn boy wonder. Paul Lester 2012 Tom Krell’s debut album as How to Dress Well, 2010’s Love Remains, was a fine example of the new form of indie-RnB crossover that nobody’s quite found a name for yet. Krell, a brainy type from Brooklyn who once translated a book of “post-Kantian philosophy”, has used phrases such as “deadlocked melancholia” and “unmetabolizable pain” to describe the relentlessly dolorous Love Remains and his tendency to wallow in suffering on that album.